The government increased overall law enforcement efforts but did not prosecute any traffickers in 2019. Law 263 of 2012—the Comprehensive Law against Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons—criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for adult trafficking, and 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment for child trafficking. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the definition of trafficking under Article 281bis of the law required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. However, Article 322 of the law criminalized all commercial sex acts involving children, thereby addressing this gap. Article 322 prescribed penalties of eight to 12 years’ imprisonment, which were also sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape. Article 281bis defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation, the sale of organs, and unlawful biomedical research. In addition, Article 321 of Law 2033, which criminalized pimping using force, fraud, or coercion, was used to prosecute sex trafficking crimes. The law prescribed significantly lower penalties of three to seven years’ imprisonment for adults, and four to 10 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving children. While Law 263 created separate criminal offenses for trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling, one government agency was responsible for both crimes; that agency often conflated the two crimes in its collection of data and response to perpetrators and potential victims of trafficking.
The government reported investigating 393 cases of trafficking, involving 422 victims, but did not indicate how many of those cases led to prosecutions in 2019, compared with the prosecution of 55 trafficking cases, including nine for pimping in 2018. Authorities did not specify how many of these cases were labor or sex trafficking, and these cases likely included other crimes not considered trafficking under international law. Authorities convicted five sex traffickers in 2019, compared with two in 2018. While authorities charged all traffickers with trafficking crimes, four pled guilty to lesser offenses and only one trafficker was convicted under the anti-trafficking law, receiving a punishment of 18 years in prison. The other four traffickers received sentences ranging from eight months to three years’ imprisonment. Historically, observers have noted that the vast majority of arrested suspects, including traffickers, served time in pre-trial detention without ever receiving a final sentence and often avoiding justice by paying bribes to corrupt officials to avoid prosecution. General backlogs in the judiciary, insufficient resources and personnel, and poor training of law enforcement officials impeded law enforcement efforts. Observers reported each prosecutor was responsible for 800 to 1,000 cases, leading to a slow administration of justice. In November, a transitional government was appointed, and some judicial reforms were immediately adopted; however, it was unclear if these provisions changed any of the observations noted. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any new cases of official complicity. In the notable 2016 case involving sex trafficking allegations and official complicity at two popular nightclubs, authorities either postponed or adjourned multiple hearings during 2019; however, civil society contacts expressed confidence that authorities would make progress in the case in the coming year.
In January, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) trained 350 officials from the judicial sector, including judges and prosecutors, on specialized techniques to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes. Separately, authorities trained law enforcement officials, including highway patrol, community police, rural and border police, the special force against violence, and transit police on victim identification, investigative techniques, and to recognize the difference between human trafficking crimes and migrant smuggling. The La Paz police department’s anti-trafficking unit maintained 18 police investigators and other departments’ anti-trafficking units allotted three to five investigators. Police officials rotated into new positions every three months to one year, resulting in a cyclical loss of institutional knowledge and impeding specialization in trafficking crimes. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) provided basic training to newly hired labor inspectors on child labor, including indicators of forced labor. In 2019, authorities reported labor inspectors conducted 145 inspections in areas of high-risk for forced labor, including the Amazon region, areas in the northern Santa Cruz Department, and the Chaco, compared with zero inspections specifically for trafficking in 2018. Officials did not report the outcome of those inspections. In June, authorities signed a bilateral cooperation agreement with Paraguay to increase cooperation in cases of trafficking. Civil society organizations indicated that government authorities coordinated with the governments of Paraguay and Peru on cases involving victims from those countries.